Target-marketing mature adults

Sept. 1, 1999
Today`s adults over 50 are interested in living active lifestyles and prolonging their youth. That`s why they are ideal candidates for your cosmetic services!

Today`s adults over 50 are interested in living active lifestyles and prolonging their youth. That`s why they are ideal candidates for your cosmetic services!

Frank Conaway

Advancements in dentistry, such as fluoride and sealants, have reduced or eliminated much of today`s younger generation`s need for dental procedures. In fact, the effects of these specific two advancements have been dramatic. According to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, almost three-quarters of all nine-year-olds had cavities in the early 1970s. By the late 1980s, that figure had dropped to one-third. And, according to the American Dental Association and the Census Bureau, fewer tooth extractions are performed.

While young people have fewer cavities and require less restorative dentistry, the opposite is true for those in older age groups. You should be focusing your marketing efforts on this group of older Americans.

To effectively "sell" dentistry to the older generations, it is essential to understand the mature market. The mature market is comprised of adults 50 and older. This is the most diverse group in terms of health, lifestyle, attitudes, values, and financial resources. Because of its diversity, and the wide age range, this market can be segmented into many groups. However, many marketers still lump the whole market into one big group and, in the process, develop many false perceptions.

Perception vs. reality

Perceptions are shaped at a very early age and by personal experiences along the way. The media, advertising, and entertainment industries have a great deal of influence on the way our perceptions are shaped. Many perceptions that people - including marketers - have of the mature market are not accurate. Here are some of them:

x- Most mature individuals are poor. The mature market controls 50 percent of the nation`s discretionary income, as well as 77 percent of its financial assets.

x- Mature adults base purchasing decisions on price. Although some perceive mature adults as "cheap" or "thrifty," they actually are willing to pay more for a product or service if it enhances their lives.

x- Most mature individuals are in poor health. The fact is that less than 20 percent of all mature individuals have some form of disability and less than 4 percent are severely disabled.

x- All mature individuals are the same. As mentioned above, this segment of the population is the most diverse in terms of health, lifestyle, attitudes, values, and financial resources.

Since most adults perceive themselves to be 10 to15 years younger than they actually are, they tend to lead active lifestyles and be concerned about their personal appearances. This can be very profitable for marketers, since these mature adults represent such a large segment of this country`s population.

Spending habits

Today, the mature market accounts for more than 50 percent of all discretionary income and controls 77 percent of the nation`s assets. More astounding is the fact that they account for more than 60 percent of all health-care spending and consume 77 percent of all prescription drugs. They spend $1 trillion on goods and services on an annual basis!

Although the mature market combined is the wealthiest demographic group in America, segmenting the market will allow the identification of significant differences in financial resources and spending habits. The mature market is comprised of many segments. One segment that is of primary importance to marketers is the Baby Boomer generation.

The Boomer segment

Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 and represent 17 percent of the adult population. The 33 million 35-53 year olds set the agenda socially, culturally, financially, and economically in this country. From rock and roll to Wall Street, the Baby Boomers have been a notable part of what America has become.

But why is this segment important to marketers? Like their predecessors, Baby Boomers will spend more on health - both prevention and cure - as they grow older. They also will look to prolong their youth. This will present ample opportunity for marketers, especially those in the dental and health-care industries. As attitudes shift to a more positive realization of aging, opportunities within the Baby Boomer market will be even greater.

Future trends

According to American demographics, researchers predict that the toothless trend will end with the Baby Boom generation. As Baby Boomers age, they will continue to utilize modern dentistry techniques to keep their own teeth, making them ideal for specific procedures such as crowns and implants. Not only will the aging Baby Boomers pay to keep their teeth, but they also will pay to keep their teeth looking good.

According to Newsweek, "Many patients (of cosmetic dentistry) are Baby Boomers desperate to defy the aging process." While the Baby Boomer population increases, so will opportunities for marketers of both cosmetic dental services and products such as veneers, gum-lifting, sculpting, and bonding. In addition, services of general dentists, endodontists, and periodontists will be in demand.

Many procedures these dentists perform are expensive - and all are profitable for their practices. But, the majority of the services are not covered by any type of insurance. Consequently, patients will need a way to pay for these services.

Payment methods

Mature adults have accumulated wealth through savings and are inclined to pay cash for the services they receive. Baby Boomers, on the other hand, frequently use credit to finance things and will need to enter into some form of payment plan.

Because the average person only has $300 available on consumer credit cards, financing dental treatment with one of these cards may be a limited option. So, practices should consider other options, such as offering a health-care, practice-payment plan.

Offering a health-care practice payment plan provides many advantages. Plans such as CareCredit® and HELPcard® offer interest-free payment plans and are designed to make monthly payments affordable. They also increase treatment acceptance and improve the practice`s cash flow. In addition, the office manager`s job is made easier because direct billing is eliminated. Ultimately, the patient goes away happy and, as a result, refers others to the practice.

A value-added service

Making it easier for mature adults, specifically Baby Boomers, to finance dental treatment creates a value-added service that greatly improves the practice`s cash flow. Taking advantage of offering this payment-plan service will prove worthwhile in the long run.

Additionally, practices that cater to mature adults can increase referrals and expand their patient base. The sidebar on Page 106 lists some ways dentists can make their practices more accommodating to Baby Boomers and the mature market.

Be ready to meet needs

As the mature market continues to be the wealthiest group in America, the opportunities to sell to them will increase. Baby Boomers will continue their tradition of living active, healthy lifestyles, and will maintain their desire to prolong their youth. Their willingness to continually invest in their personal appearance creates marketable opportunities in the dental industry. Dental professionals prepared to meet the cosmetic, preventative, and maintenance needs of mature adults will reap the financial rewards that come through effective marketing.

Marketing to mature adults

Creating an environment that encourages mature adults to feel comfortable is the first step toward gaining their trust and selling your services to them. This can be done a number of ways. The following list offers some tips on how to approach this.

x- Be willing to spend more time with mature adults. Although mature consumers can comprehend just as much as younger adults, they may need a little more time to absorb the information.

x- Play music in the dental office that mature adults are familiar with and is more to their liking. By playing music from their generation, you will create a more comfortable atmosphere for these patients.

x- Make sure that all of the literature you provide is in large enough type to be read by older adults.

x- Train all staff on understanding the needs of mature adults. Knowing their physical, psychological, and social needs will enable staff to relate better to them.

x- Address mature clients as Mr., Mrs., or Ms., and do not patronize them. If a younger person happens to accompany an older individual to the dentist, don`t make the assumption that the younger person speaks for the older person.